Question time on the FM website (plus The Week in Review)

Ask any question about geopolitics, broadly defined. We — and others reading the FM website — will attempt to answer it in the comments.   All answers welcomed!


  1. Questions received so far
  2. Quote of the week
  3. To start the discussion: interesting sources of information
  4. Dumbest comment of the week
  5. Some useful insights about our political economy

(1)  Questions received so far

From the home page click on the title to see the full post.  Click on the link to go directly to that thread.  Please use the REPLY button when replying to a previous comment, to keep threads together.

  1. What could Fox news do to help or hinder the situation in Iran?
  2. Important, unanswered:  Is there any way to explain to the warmongering sections of the American public how difficult a war with Iran would be?
  3. Why do so many warmongers care more about fetuses than full grown soldiers?
  4. Why are they talking about down sizing the military if they want to start all of these new wars like Iran?
  5. Are the proposed US sanctions against Iran an act of war?
  6. Interesting, unanswered:  The US military frequently refers to US soldiers as “warriors”. Does this suggest the military sees itself as a class apart?
  7. What do you think of this panel discussion with Heinberg, Kunstler, Foss, Orlov & Chomsky?
  8. Will Iran look like a replay of the lead-up to the Iraq war, with exxagerated claims of Iraqi WMD’s? Can the same process repeat?
  9. Please read; this is your future:  When do you expect the smart, well educated Mark Steyn to produce his first intelligent article?
  10. Interesting, unanswered:  What do the European countries have to gain by going along with the Iran sanctions?
  11. Can someone other than a government build an atomic bomb?
  12. What role does Israel play in our policy towards Iran?  Can we limit that role somehow?
  13. Please outline the criteria by which you gauge a reliable source.
  14. Can the western nations bending Iran to their will, short of military action? Will they dare military action?
  15. What do the Europeans have to gain from sanctioning Iran?
  16. Video of Marines Urinating on Dead Taliban

(2) Quote of the week

Inspiring words that were true in 1968. Then we grew better. Now we’re regressing, so these words are again true.

{T}ime is neutral. It can be used constructively or destructively. And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation — the people on the wrong side — have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

— “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution“, a sermon by Martin Luther King delivered on 31 March 1968 at the National Cathedral, Washington, DC

(3)  To start the discussion:  interesting sources of information

(a)  Some economic lessons:

(b)  Articles and reports:

  1. The leading edge of America: “The Great Recession and Distribution of Income in California“, Sarah Bohn and Eric Schiff, Public Policy Institute of California, December 2011
  2. Our leaders are easily fooled:  “Ahmed Chalabi: Conning America“, Barry Lando, Huffington Post, 19 December 2011
  3. Failing Up With Joshua Foust: Meet The ‘Evil Genius’ Massacre-Denier Who Shills For War Profiteers“, By Mark Ames, the Exiled, 31 December 2011 — Cross-posted at Naked Capitalism.  See these posts discussing Fousts’ work.
  4. Glenn Greenwald’s excellent new column “End of the pro-democracy pretense“, Salon, 2 January 2012 — His columns should be on your must-read list.
  5. Recommended: The Banality Of Racism“, Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, 3 January 2012
  6. Nicely said: Iowa and Beyond: ‘Common Sense’ Racism and the Tea Party GOP“, Chauncey DeVega, Salon, 4 January 2012
  7. Another step away from the rule of law in America:  “The Restatement of Property and the Road to Mortgagocracy“, Adam Levitin, CreditSlips, 5 January 2012 — Lawyers changing long-held contract law to help the banks, screwing the homeowner
  8. To be an American geopolitical expert, one must have a total lack of self-awareness:  “Why Islamism Is Winning“, John M. Owen IV (Prof Politics, U VA), New York Times, 6 January 2012 — Does he describe the Republican presidential candidates as “Christianists”?
  9. One of the few sensible articles in English about developments in Egypt:  “The unexpected rise of Salafists has complicated Egyptian politics“, Omar Ashour, The Daily Star (of Lebanon), 6 January 2012
  10. Another good one:  “Egypt on the Edge“, Yasmine El Rashidi, New York Review of Books, 12 January 2012

(4)  Dumbest comment of the week

From a smart, well-educated guy (everybody has bad days; see his website):  “The Torch Has Been Passed to a New Generation“, Mark Steyn, National Review Online, 21 December 2011 — Red emphasis added.  That’s almost too stupid (ie, ethnocentric) to believe, even for the readers of NRO (except for the first sentence, which applies nicely to the US as well).  Excerpt:

If you’re going to turn your country into a squat of theocratic totalitarianism, a stupid population is indispensable. Washington’s most basic problem in Afghanistan, for example, is that most of its upcountry villagers are too ill educated even to be aware of the existence of countries such as the United States. When, after 9/11, a bunch of guys in the full Robocop showed up and started blowing stuff up, your average rural Pushtun simply had no more idea who they were or where they came from than the Americans vis a vis the space aliens in Independence Day.

(5)  Some useful insights about our political economy

Excerpt from “Debtors’ Prison“, Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, 6 June 2011:

Creditors — the rentier class in classic usage — are usually the wealthy and the powerful. Debtors, almost by definition, have scant resources or power. The “money issue” of 19th-century America, about whether credit would be cheap or dear, was also a battle between growth and austerity.

… History’s two great negative and positive examples of how to deal with unsustainable debt are the periods after the two world wars. At the 1919 Versailles peace conference, the creditor mentality prevailed, and Europe’s postwar recovery was aborted. Britain and France imagined they could bleed defeated Germany to pay off their own immense war debts (mostly to the United States). Britain also pursued tight money to keep its own currency valued at prewar levels, in order to protect the creditor class. The policy wrecked the German economy and kept British unemployment above 10 percent for two decades. The great critic of Britain’s folly was John Maynard Keynes, then an adviser to the British Treasury. Keynes’ 1919 book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, prophetically warned that the policy of squeezing Germany until “the pips squeak” would cause depression and a second war.

After World War II, history gave Keynes a chance do it right. His Bretton Woods system emphasized domestic recovery in the defeated as well as the victorious powers and created a global monetary system in which private financial speculators were denied the power to compel nations to pursue deflation. Our own Federal Reserve combined loose money with tight regulation, so that low interest rates could fund the huge war debt without inviting destructive speculation. Cheap money and expansive investment kept America from sinking back into depression.

Today, that expansionary logic has been reversed and creditors are once again hegemonic. Banks want cheap money for themselves, draconian terms for others. The banker-afflicted European Union is punishing Greece rather than finding a way to let it grow. In the United States, relief is denied to underwater homeowners because debt contracts are sacred, even as the policy prolongs the agony. Everywhere, budget austerity is advertised as the road to growth — though it denies the economy its productive potential.

These issues are treated as either impossibly technical or as non-debatable. They are neither. We need to democratize the money issue once again.

58 thoughts on “Question time on the FM website (plus The Week in Review)

    1. There are so many ways Fox News could improve itself. Here are a few, off the top.

      • Close up shop.
      • Sell the firm to the BBC, or some other (real) news media.
      • Adopt a truth-in-advertising policy, and rename themselves “Right-wing Pravda”.
    2. Let me try again with this question. Fox News is helping to incite a war with Iran, part of the pack. I assume that’s what they’re attempting to do.

      It’s a tradition of American tabloids. While there is no evidence Hearst send the famous telegram (“You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”), his newspapers participated in the massive propaganda campaign to build enthusiasm for war with Spain.

      Perhaps a more useful question is how can we help free America from the grip of these campaigns of lies? Repeating the truth seems ineffective. Does anyone have suggestions?

    3. Smaller, more local units of authority might help. This of course is not an absolute antidote, but if each local town hall/local church has its own trusted authorities and independent decision-making processes, this will make it more difficult for absolutely preposterous, harmful propaganda to gain wide acceptance– surely some sub-units will be infected, but there will be a degree of built-in quarantine and checks and balances.

      When the great masses are united into a single homogenized body with an integrated truth-making process and centralized poles of authority, it is almost inevitable that the interests of the great majority will suffer. There is simply no way for such a large number of people to meaningfully participate in a collective process that large and complex– real decision-making power will inevitably fall into the hands of a smaller group of insiders who specialize in studying and manipulating the powerful forces brought into existence through the process of integration. And this in-group will create information and make decisions that serve their interests, not those of the great majority.

      So I would say that part of the solution is to build social capital. The forces of centralization and decentralization are ever in flux, and however much the pendulum swings one way, it must eventually spend some time swinging back. This website has called repeatedly for Americans to start forming local groups to discuss politics and current affairs, which I think is a very wise recommendation.

    4. “Smaller, more local units of authority might help.”

      This faith in smaller units — and distrust of larger ones — has become commonplace in America. It is IMO almost totally without factual support. I attribute it to people who have little experience living in small communities. Small towns are often totally ruled by a small elite with control of the local communication media and government. The only recourse for dissidents is to be crushed or leave.

    5. And our larger, more integrated system is governed by what– a non-elite? You are correct in that there are many benefits to integration, and one of them is access to outside help in establishing standards of justice, as well as access to outside economic and information resources. But there are also drawbacks, which include loss of autonomy, and exposure to outside economic exploitation and disinformation.

      In a perfect world, we’d always choose the optimal balance. But our world is dynamic, and there is only so much that we are able to choose. Personally, I think it is incredible to read about how much time people in America spent in local meetings and parliamentary-style bodies a hundred years ago, seriously engaged and discussing important matters and making collective decisions that had a direct impact on their lives. What a great contrast to today, when the closest most people come to this is yelling at their TV screen or snoozing through meetings at the office just long enough to get back to their desk and do “real” work.

      One more technical point– I suspect that your example of the sleepy, plutocratic small town is a red herring. In reality, smaller communities, just like larger ones, can develop in a wide variety of ways. Your dysfunctional example is one possibility, but history has also documented many examples of vibrant, engaged small communities.

    6. “And our larger, more integrated system is governed by what – a non-elite?”

      The western large states are run by multiple elites. This makes close control far more difficult. It provides room to develop alternative systems of thought and communications, businesses outside the existing cartels, and new political alliances.

    7. The large Western states are also populated by relatively homogenous masses of consumers who are disengaged from the collective decision-making process. This makes them much easier to manipulate, for better or worse.

    8. “masses of consumers who are disengaged from the collective decision-making process …”

      A succient statement of the problem! Now, does anyone have ideas about solutions? I don’t.

    9. FM: “Small towns are often totally ruled by a small elite with control of the local communication media and government.”

      I believe a key factor in America’s broken OODA loop is the knowledge (religious belief?) that the US is so powerful that it can survive any number of bad decisions, regardless of how bad the decisions are. This puts the decision makers in a position where they feel like they can make any decision they like. They will be rewarded for the good decisions and won’t be punished very much for the bad ones.

      I’ve lived in a number of small towns and FM’s description of small government is pretty accurate but the people who run those governments are usually competent enough for the situation even if they are arrogant and extremely annoying because there is very little margin for error. It doesn’t matter if you can always be re-elected if you bankrupt the city out of existence.

    10. “{leaders of small towns} are usually competent enough for the situation”

      I agree, that’s usually the case. They’re like small businessmen, running what they own. There are many exceptions, however (as always). For example, see the towns in update New York, mostly run by local elites both corrupt and incompetent. The largest, Buffalo (a small city) is the poster child: it had almost every advantage (circa WWII) — cheap power, a nexus of sea and rail transport, a good university, industry — and they ran it into the ground.

    11. “Perhaps a more useful question is how can we help free America from the grip of these campaigns of lies? Repeating the truth seems ineffective. Does anyone have suggestions?”

      A fascinating question that may never be answered.

      Do we seek to to change our “mythical historical narrative?”

      Or do we seek to encourage that narrative by obsessively worrying at it and calling attention to it?

    12. FM is absolutely correct about small town life being run by a small elite. That’s why I have no desire to return to such. I lived in a small town when Wal-Mart came along. We welcomed it because of two main reasons. The first was convenience. We did not have to drive 100 miles to buy school supplies etc. The other reason is that it was an alternative to the a-holes who ran the chamber of commerce. Nobody cried when their small businesses went under, They charged too much for poor service. They paid poorly, just like Wal-Mart, but lived in big houses. We hated them and were extremely satisfied to watch them be forced to leave town. Only someone who has lived their whole life in cities would think otherwise.

    13. It is fascinating for me to read everyone’s opinions about small towns, because it is a topic that I have almost no direct knowledge of. Even if TV and movies were all we had to go on, though, I think we could all agree that “It’s a Wonderful Life” might provide a realistic model– tight-knit but dominated by a crotchety old banker in a big house on a hill.

      One theoretical observation that could be made is that a town’s economic situation may have some effect on its politics. For instance, I would guess that if a town is not growing economically, then it will be much easier for a small, incompetent elite to take power, because energetic, competent competitors will migrate towards better opportunities; and because no new resources are being created that a would-be competitor could grab and build a base of power with. Does this make any sense to those of you with direct experience?

      At any rate, building social capital does not have to mean returning to small towns, which is not economically possible anyway. It could begin with something as simple as forming a book club. To escape the tyranny of the totems flashing on the TV screen, people need to think and act for themselves. It is much easier for people to think and act for themselves if they are able to discuss weighty matters with an extended group of people that they know and trust, and count on their support in difficult situations. When I say de-centralized “authority”, I mean de-centralized “responsibility”, because responsibility is the foundation of all real authority.

    14. A conservative Republican learns to stop hating Liberals, an example of Transpartisanism: “Changing the Political Game“, A “Song Of A Citizen” video interview with JOSEPH McCORMICK at the Coffee Party Convention, Louisville, KY on 25 September 2010.

  1. Is there any way to explain to the warmongering sections of the American public how difficult a war with Iran would be?

    1. Great question! My guess is “no”. We’re lost in delusions of omnipotence and invulnerability, with a touch of bloodlust.

      Talk to Americans about bombing of civilians, eternal imprisonment and torture of people innocent of any crime, and you’ll see either disinterest or excitement. We’re sick.

      The crime is stupidity. We are guilty. The punishment is severe but imposed on ourself. China builds supertrains. Korea has fiber to most homes. Singapore builds 21st century cities for its highly educated citizens. We burn our wealth on weapons and foreign wars, while our infrastructure rots and debts accumulate.

    2. A limited war against Iran that was waged mainly from the air and the sea, and had as its main objectives the devastation of Iran’s civilian and military infrastructure and the degradation of its ability to wield influence in the region… would probably not be that difficult or costly. It would be tyrannical and pointless and might eventually come back to bite us, but such considerations have never much swayed American voters and decision-makers.

      On the other hand, maybe it wouldn’t be so pointless– surely reducing Iran’s influence in the region would bring considerable changes, and not all of them would be negative. Still, I lean against war. I’m not particularly proud of our skill in blowing things up, and I wish we’d stop.

  2. Everytime I listen to Rick Santorum I feel physically ill. Why do so many warmongers care more about fetuses than full grown soldiers?

    1. Another great question, but beyond my pay grade.

      However, bonus points for the use of “war monger.” We’re hemmed in by political correctness, unable to call “warmongers” those who always advocate war, and assume fair play to those using faux economics to justify an endless stream of goodies to the wealthy and their corporations — and cutting services to everybody else.

      For more information see:

  3. Why are they talking about down sizing the military if they want to start all of these new wars like Iran? Like Leon Panetta wants a so called “leaner meaner” military. Seems stupid to me, not that I want a war with Iran and $10 gas and economic collapse that goes with it.

    1. The government is not a unitary entity. Different factions have different goals, different plans for the future. Large and powerful element oppose cutting military funding. Many want increased funding for the military and homeland security. There was a wave of op-eds and articles in 2010 about the need for more spending, correctly noting that maintaining the size of our current air and sea forces (both of which are rapidly aging) requires a drastic increase in funding.

    2. I hate to think the Iran hysterics might be related to the automatic budget cuts. Is this conspiratorial thinking? That there there might be powerful people looking for a way to stop any reduction in defense spending.

    3. It’s an important question. Unfortunately, as all parents know, “why” is the most difficult of questions to answer. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

    4. My take is that we’re playing to keep Iran occupied until we can flip Lebanon and and Syria. Maybe we’re also gunning for some sort of limited war in which we could devastate Iran’s infrastructure and promote civil unrest– perhaps not flipping the regime, but at least weakening Iran internally and abroad without great cost to ourselves. I think the odds of us invading them are close to nil– we’d lose.

  4. Last I considered this, an embargo is an act of War. The USTreasury is reimposing sanctions originated in 1995. Source: An overview of O.F.A.C. Regulations involving Sanctions against Iran, US Treasury, 10 August 2011. Excerpt:

    “Effective March 16, 1995, as a result of Iranian support of international terrorism and Iran’s active pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12957 prohibiting U.S. involvement with petroleum development in Iran.”

    Does that mean we have been at war with Iran for approx 17 years? Cant we come up with a better excuse, like Barbary Pirates or something?

    Robert Baer(former CIA) identified Iran as a state competent to negotiate in its own self interest. He said that the Wahabi’s were so ideologically narcissistic as to be incapable of this.

    The real question: why isn’t somelike like Kissinger in charge of negotiations, starting from pure self interest?

    1. Successful diplomacy requires trust and good faith bargaining between both parties. Both parties are (theoretically) capable of these things, but in reality there is no concrete incentive for either party to improve diplomatic relations. Neither side wants to negotiate, given that it would make them appear weak, domestically and abroad. The Prisoner’s Dilemma game is a somewhat suitable model of the situation.

      Iran has serious valid grievances with the US and doesn’t trust that the US won’t screw it over, given the chance. This seems a rational assumption, given past and present US actions. Meanwhile, the US doesn’t need to negotiate with Iran, since Iran doesn’t have anything worthwhile to trade, outside of threats to shut down oil exports. Additionally the US needs someone to put in the two minute hate and Iran fits quite well.

    2. Here you get into deep water, asking about casus belli — justifications for war. The current global legal regime is not Roman Catholic theology, which is (oddly) often used as the basis for these discussions). It is the UN Charter, for States who have signed it — such as the US and Iran. Chapter VII says:

      The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security. (article 39)

      Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations … (article 51)

      So Iran must take US actions, such as our economic sanctions, to the Security Council for determination if they violate the peace. Needless to say, Iran will find no justice there. Anymore than Somali fishermen did when Japan and others raped their fishing grounds. The Security Council provides justice by and for the major powers. Not so different from that of the past. Might makes Right.

  5. In many of the articles you cite, frequently refer to US soldiers as being “warriors”, does this suggest the military/complex sees itself as being a class apart? (your Australian reader again)

    1. For many, the US is the home of some kind of “chosen people”. (Witness the importance of American Exceptionalism.) Going further, there is a “warrior class”, the elite of the chosen people, felt to be invincible and allowed to violate the normal rules which apply to average members of the chosen people. So, yes, the military/complex sees itself as a class apart.

      To see this in breathtaking action, see the disdain which many marines show towards non-marines, especially other service branches. As well as other civilians. And, of course, countries which they occupy.

      Maybe this institutional value is necessary when the institution’s design point is killing “enemies”.

    2. All of these things are natural expressions of pride. Commendable when justified. Useful when in proportion. Cancerous and destructive when they grow excessively.

      The tree is judged by its fruit. America and its armed services by its actions. Our participation in WWII was, on the whole, one of the bright spots in our history. Since then we’ve increasingly turned to evil methods, often evil goals. Hence the growth of government “secrecy” — like the drone killings, secret but everybody knows — to conceal from ourselves what we’re doing.

      Many people mock the first three chapters of the Star Wars saga, how the Republic turns toward the dark side. Future generations might consider this to be our story. We could not bear to look, but could discuss it only in parables. They’ll cite these movies as evidence that we knew what we did, but refused to acknowledge the truth.

    3. David’s answer is uninformed at best. As FM points out, much can simply be chalked up to rivalry and pride.

      FM stated in another answer that there is not one government, and the same can be said of the military. The Pentagon class is distinct from people in the field, which itself is a highly stratified and segmented group.

      Short answer, after over 20 years in, is that I did not see a self-conscious “we are distinct and superior to civilians” attitude at all. I worked around a few Navy and Army SF types, and they were no more or less humble or prideful than anyone else.

    4. I am a recently retired Air Force (AF) Officer. I was a cyber/communications guy and leadership was always concerned about ensuring we had a warrior ethos engrained in our psyche. Why? Because we were support troops, but they wanted to keep morale up. If we are all tied to the mission, then we will perform better. If we looked at the task at hand as just a profession (something the AF has struggled with) and not a part of the overall war machine, then morale falls. I think it goes along the line that “every Marine is a rifleman” so you stay sharp regardless of your duty.

      There are many of us who cringed every time we were called “warrior””. It isn’t that we didn’t do dangerous jobs (I did convoy duty in Iraq as a comms officer), it’s just that it is manufactured. When cyber took off, someone coined the term “cyber-ninjas” – It was to show that the non-kinetic guys did great ops stuff. The problem is that there is no danger behind a key board and while cyber operations are difficult and unique, they don’t face the same challenges of being blown up/shot/killed.

      I hope this clears this up – it isn’t a nefarious scheme – just a ploy to improve morale and keep people focused on the mission.

    1. I believe that five minutes spent reading this is five minutes of your life wasted. Instead you could have spent that time reading a source of reliable information (eg, The Economist, the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the Marine Corps Gazette).

      None of these people is qualified to speak about peak oil. Some are fountains of misinformation. The interview consists of a collection of myths, falsehoods, facts, and misinformation in a jumble. The very first statement is totally wrong, in many ways:

      Orlov: There’s really no plan in the United States at any level to survive a shutoff in the flow of oil of the magnitude that the Iranians could cause simply by making a plausible threat because the oil tankers are not insured against a ballistic missile attack …

    2. Hey Fireside, just by reading the title I can already run down why most of these people are *NOT* qualified to discuss Peak Oil in any authoritative matter.

      Heinberg – M.A. in Leadership, formally taught at New College of California. IE, *not* qualified to be an authority on the subject of “Peak Oil”. In fact, I find it pretty humorous how many people treat him like he’s some grand authority on it.

      Kunstler – Graduated from State University of New York, Brockport campus in Theater, eventually directing plays, and becoming an author. IE, *not* qualified to be an authority on the subject of “Peak Oil”. You may be surprised to know, he said the very same things he’s been saying now throughout the 90s, just about, well, Y2K. Guess it didn’t phase him to be massively wrong, and just changed the MacGuffin to fit his desire for a return to “small town America”.

      Foss – Don’t really know anything about her, so can’t say one way or another. Can anyone fill in the gap there?

      Orlov – BS in Computer Engineering and an MA in Applied Linguistics. IE *not* qualified to be an authority on the subject of “Peak oil” In fact, he’s one of the worst offenders of the bunch. His tripe is just contrasted from the usual pre industrial agrarian small town fantasies of the Peak Oil bunch with raw survivalist porn mixed in with a Russo American collapse style touch. Though to be fair, at least he’s got a degree in something technical….

      Chomsky – PhD in linguistics. Uhm, you know the drill. *Not* qualified to be an authority on the subject of “Peak Oil”. Keep in mind, from what I’ve gathered, he’s actually the only non doomer on the panel, and I still don’t think he’s qualified to talk about it.

      Seriously, the energybulletin, while it publishes some good stuff here and there, just seems like a less stupid version of the “oil drum”. You should pick better sources to read up. You know, from people actually qualified to talk about whatever subject you’re interested in.

    3. Anyone up for a few laughs should read Dmitri Orlov’s response to this panel discussion {at his website}. It’s short but it gave me a laugh. The gold comment is in this bit “The overall message seems to have been that it doesn’t matter what any of us say, because so few people are able to take in such bad news without becoming despondent”.

      No, it doesn’t matter what you say (on Peak Oil) because you aren’t remotely qualified to talk about it. No, writing a book morons bought to subsidize your yacht payments doesn’t count.

  6. FM, your recent article on Iran’s nuclear ambitions said that it looks like Iran is right now not actively working on nuclear weapons.

    So is it going to be a replay of the lead-up to the Iraq war, with exxagerated claims of Iraqi WMD’s? Can the exact same thing happen again inside our government / defense department / whoever made the decision?

    1. This is the rule of cons: the same mark will fall repeatedly for the same con, because people seldom learn from experience. We have become a weak and foolish people, easily led and indifferent to the evil done by our government in our name. Nothing will change until we acknowledge these things.

      For more information see:

  7. Comment received via email, regarding item #4: Dumbest comment of the week, by Mark Steyn

    When do you expect the smart, well educated Mark Steyn to produce his first intelligent article?

    1. Mark Steyn is a brilliant and well-educated man in his field, which is the performing arts in modern America. See his website, Steyn Online, for evidence.

      He turned his skills to the far-better paying field of propagandist for the far-right. Like Niall Ferguson, Victor Hanson, and almost the entire troup of today’s “Chicago school” economists. That’s just good career sense. As we evolve towards plutocracy more of our best people will become courtiers. Flattering the rich, entertaining the rich, justifying their policies, writing propaganda to keep the proles quiet.

      Get used to it. Move elsewhere. Or act to restore America. Those are the only choices.

  8. What do the European countries have to gain by going along with the Iran sanctions? Rising oil prices aren’t going to help the EU — the trade balance and the debt problems of the weaker nations will probably become even worse. Do they actually believe in the ‘Iranian nuclear weapons program?’

    1. Another great question! Let’s look at this from two perspectives.

      (1) A War with Iran as another in a string of similar wars: invasion of Afghanistan (NATO), invasion of Iraq (the Coalition), and supporting the civil war in Libya. What did the supporting European nations hope to gain from these? What did they gain? I see no clear answer. Perhaps these are neo-colonial wars, hoping to install puppet governments that would grant mining concessions on easy terms to western companies. All of these nations have great mineral wealth; all of the governments overthrown were hostile to western corporations (to varying degrees).

      (2) A War with Iran, taking the stated terms to be the real reasons. Does Europe fear an Iran with nukes? Has Europe suffered from the possession of nukes by Israel, Pakistan, India, and (perhaps) North Korea? Again, this is not clear.

      Perhaps we are seeing hidden history — developments where the key dynamics occur invisibly to us. Like the existence of ULTRA, the revelations of President Kennedy’s illnesses and infidelity, the terrifying war room debates about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the corruption of the FBI crime lab, Hoover’s cross-dressing, the US government’s terrorist activities (revealed by the Church Committee), the missile gab — and the many truths yet to be revealed (ie, who killed Kennedy).

      Consider how we saw the world in 1960, and how little we understood. Today we may be just as mistaken, ignorant and deceived.

    2. I like Fabius’ answers a lot, and I would only add:

      What do the European nations have to gain from going it alone on this one? They are politically and economically dependent on the “Western” international system that has its center of gravity in the United States, which means that any contrary moves on an issue as impassioned as this one would be very risky. And if they do suffer any catastrophic losses as a result of a US-directed action, they can expect speedy and sufficient aid to help them through the crisis– the Western bloc has a good record of helping its own and even outsiders in times of acute need.

      International politics is a rough game, and it pays to belong to a bloc. Just like in a rough neighborhood or in jail, it pays to belong to a gang. Going it alone is very risky in any of these environments, and requires both physical and political strength. Individual European nations have limited reserves of both, so they will naturally choose their confrontations wisely.

  9. Spare parts/ glitch fixers for some componant or program in most European weapon systems . See again ” Lockheed Martin . ” If we ever fall out with you we shall just have to chuck broken bottles and dog poop at your troops .

    1. Can someone other than a government build an atomic bomb?

      See Joe Haldeman’s short story “To Howard Hughes: A Modest Proposal”, Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1974. The proposal call for a tycoon to commissions a secret group of scientists and technicans to assemble 28 nuclear bombs in an secret island base off Florida. They place in the major cities of the world and holds the world to ransom until all nations surrender their nukes.

    1. Israel plays a very strong role in determining US policy to Iran. For more about Israel’s influence of US policy:

      The article that started the discussion (which was latent for many years): “The Israel Lobby“, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, London Review of Books, 23 March 2006 — Later expanded into The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007)

      Stephen Walt’s articles at Foreign Policy:

  10. You’ve made clear your disdain for unsupported speculation in general, and predictions of doom in particular, witnessed by the reply to Firesidecollapse above. But while you place great stress on “reliable sources”, you’ve also noted the use of the American media organs to spread misinformation on a massive scale. Given this seeming dichotomy, can you briefly outline the criteria by which you gauge a reliable source? If this isn’t possible to do succinctly, perhaps it may be the basis of a future post — if you haven’t already done so.

    1. A clear “best of thread” winner, with a deep and brilliant question. Everybody finds their own way to assess the quality and reliability of data and analysis. I look at two things.

      (1) Looks at the amount of hard data used in the analysis, and the sources of that data. For example, in the panel discussion Firesidecollapse cited the participants used relatively little data — and much of that was from unreliable sources. It’s not just an abscence of data that signals unreliable analysis. Making stuff up is a common form of analysis, esp when playing to a community of believers. Also, manufacturing misinformation or poorly contexted information has become a lucrative (fortunately small) industry, marketing to true believers. Shadowstats is the best known example in the field of economics.

      (2) We’re often forced to evaluate analysis outside our own area of competence. It’s not easy!

      • First I look at nature of the logic. Clearly spelled out steps, with reasonable qualifications for the usual uncertainties (eg, many possible outcomes, uncertain data). I’ve found highly confident and precise forecasts a reliable indicator of a poseur — not a real expert (who tend to cautious and tentative conclusions when on the frontier of knowledge).
      • Second, I look at the citations given. Whom cited, in what source? Citing fringe experts in obscure sources is a warning flag.
      • Third, I look at the nature of the analysis. If they wildly denigrate well-known experts, esp if in vague or personal terms, I’ll save valuable time and stop reading. IF they disagree with highly credentialled experts, but give very specific and data-rich analysis, then I’ll pay attention.

      How do you distinguish real from fake experts?

  11. Iran has managed to avoid reacting to provocations thus far, it is doubtful if there will be any reaction to the oil embargo either. If the present pattern continues do the western nations have any way of bending the Iranians to their will, short of military action?
    The second question is , in your opinion will they dare military action given that Iran has the ability to hit back (unlike recent victims of western “intervention” ) ?

    1. All good questions. Unfortunately, they take us into the realm of personalities. There is no logical basis to determine what happens next, so far as I know. I find it difficult to even imagine that the US or Israel will attack Iran. But history is a series of just such irrational actions.

      As I (and others) have said for several years, these aggressive threats of war by US leaders might sap our credibility if not followed by action, however risky — perhaps even ruinous (see the next two posts for more about the war option).

  12. What do the Europeans have to gain from sanctioning Iran? The EU stands to maintain its role as the nuclear fuel-provider to the world. There has long been a North-South conflict over the question of who gets to control the nuclear fuel cycle – the process by which nuclear fuel is manufactured, which involves uranium enrichment (something IRan is developing, and Argentina and Brazil just developed.)

    Currently, 5 companies only provide the entire world’s nuclear reactor fuel, and they’re all controlled by their respective governments or are joint operations by multiple governments, most of them European. Some countries in the North (developed states) have argued that the process should be limited to themselves, because the process could be used to make nuclear weapons.

    The South (poorer, developing states) has fiercely resisted that, and says that they don’t trust the North, that they think the “sensitivity” of this technology is being used as a pretext to create a cartel on the future’s sole source of energy, which can be manipulated for political purposes.

    This is a long-standing conflict that predates Iran’s nuclear program but the South (as represented by the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Countries which represent the majority of the nations in the world) has repeatedly backed Iran’s right to enrich uranium. If Iran gets to have its enrichment program, then other countries can too. The view that worldwide energy supplies can be cut of for political reasons was proven, as far as Iran was concerned, when the US imposed an embargo on the sale of gasoline to Iran (causing Iran to massively reduce its excess gasoline consumption and increase refining and the price of gas at home – something it had always wanted to do but faced a potential public backlash.)

    1. Thanks for this interesting comment! Seeing things from the “other’s” perspective is often the vital missing link in geopolitical analysis. Esp in the West, whose people often assume their view is the only legitimate view.

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